Golf's Young Guns: Predicting the Next Tiger Woods

Ryan Klocke@@RyanKlockeBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2011

Golf's Young Guns: Predicting the Next Tiger Woods

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    Remember when Sunday's were an event in golf? That decade or so span when the last day of the weekend meant wearing red? When fans of the sport and those who'd usually skip the channel would tune in and stare, captivated alike at what was transpiring on the greens and fairways at Augusta, Pebble, St. Andrews and TPC? 

    That was the power of Tiger Woods in his prime. He drew all of us in. We couldn't not watch, the gravitational pull of his game and demeanor pulling us toward our couches. No one athlete had more command over his sport, which has been proven quite succinctly with his downturn. 

    What golf needs is another star, another Tiger. Right now isn't working. Parity doesn't play in this sport, not after people became accustomed to one man lapping the field over the course of four days. So the inevitable question then is, "Who's next?" 

Justin Thomas

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    Justin Thomas accomplished more athletically at 16 than 99.9 percent of us will in our lives. Seriously. He made a cut on the PGA tour. While kids his age were worrying about driver's licenses and chemistry exams and JV basketball games, he was toppling pros. 

    That was in 2009. Now he's at Alabama and impressing all the same with his ability. So once again, while kids his age were preoccupied with dorm life and syllabi and sorority girls, he was making golf look easy.  

Peter Uihlein

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    Uihlein's resume reads like a future tour star: 2010 US Amateur champion (something that always will evoke Woods comparisons), former top-ranked amateur golfer in the world, Walker Cup competitor, college star ... 

    ... And so on and so on ... 

    He's currently a junior at Oklahoma State, where he's studying up and representing the Cowboys when not making the cut at The Open Championship. 

Chris Williams

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    Another big-time college star, Williams is a junior at Washington with a long list of accolades to his credit. 

    •  Ranked 20th by Golfweek.com, 20th by Scratch Players Golf, 27th by Golfstat.com and 36th by WAGR in June of 2011.
    • Represented USA at the 2011 Walker Cup where he went 1-1 in foursome action while teamed with UCLA's Patrick Cantlay and 1-0 in singles matches.
    • Qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional after winning his sectional at Gold Mountain. Missed the cut by two strokes.

    Impressive, and it's why the Huskies say Williams is one of the best in school history. 

Eugene Wong

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    Eugene's been a force in Eugene, helping lead the University of Oregon golf team throughout his college career. The results speak for themselves, including being name the Golf Coaches Association of America Player of the Year in 2010. 

    A senior, Wong is still playing at an elite level. Currently, the Canadian is the third-ranked college golfer in the NCAA.

Jordan Spieth

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    Wanna feel old? Here's a doozy: This kid was born in 1993? He's one of the youngest guns of the young guns, though he plays like a seasoned veteran whose spent decades driving, pitching and putting. 

    Now for the hard data: He's won the U.S. Junior Amateur more than once, making himself and Tiger Woods the only two players to ever accomplish that feat. Impressive. Then there's all the other stuff that could go on for pages but leads you to the same conclusion here: He's a future star. 

    Currently, he's the No. 2 golfer in college. But as fate would have it, he's not even the best player on his team ... 

Dylan Frittelli

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    Meet Frittelli, the top player at Texas and the top college player in the NCAA. He's already improving on an All-American junior year and making the most out of his final days representing the longhorns. He earned that No. 1 ranking by winning three times this fall. 

    That earned him a nod from Golf Digest, who tabbed the South African as a player we'll be hearing plenty about before he graduates this spring. 

Kelly Kraft

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    Kraft brought home the 2011 U.S. Amateur, meaning he's currently the hottest ticket around, or carrying the most cachet at least. And it wasn't easy, either. To win, he had to top phenom and former world No. 1 Patrick Cantlay (stay tuned for him) to take home the title and the instant Tiger comparison that comes with it. 

    Born in 1988, Kraft definitely qualifies under the "Young gun" moniker and continues to back it up with performances like the one at the 2011 Australian Open, where he was a the low amateur. 

Jin Jeong

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    A definite star on the rise, Jeong would barely be old enough to toast his biggest accomplishment ... If it came on our shores. Instead, it's across the pond, at a little get together called The Open Championship, where the 21-year-old finished 14th. 

    Yeah, 14th. It would probably go without saying that he was the low amateur for the event. Keep an eye on Jeong, because somebody with the ability to finish that high as an amateur has an upside as high as anybody. 

Russell Henley

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    Henley went the amateur route, paid his dues, too. In 2010, he took the Haskins Award as the top golfer in College, a nice way to cap an ultra-successful tenure at Georgia. Well, that and the fact he was the low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open. 

    But play for free time has ended for the 22-year-old, and he's now a burgeoning star on the professional level. So far, results have looked promising. 

Joe David

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    It's not as easy to find a picture of Joe David, whose padded his resume in relative obscurity compared to the others on this list. And that's why Golf Digest decided to change all that, by naming the Ole Miss product "The Best Player You've Never Heard Of." 

    We'll let the uber-experts take it from here ... 

    David averaged 2.3 three-putts a round in his first three tournaments with Ole Miss during his freshman year. This fall his under par in the putting par category.

    It's not just improved putting, however, that explains David's fall performance—three top-fives, five top-15s in five starts, 71.8 stroke average. Ross says that David's game has matured in total, making him a more consistent—and confident—golfer.


Danny Lee

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    Lee's a "rookie ready to make noise," a 21-year-old whose lapped a lot of this field in terms of experience on the professional level. He finished sixth in money in the Nationwide Tour last year and was the youngest gun of those who recently picked up their PGA tour cards. 

    No college, no more minor leagues. Lee is in The Show now. 

Seung-Yul Noh

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    Born in 1991, this young gun turned pro in 2007 after winning the Korean Amateur in 2005.

    Professional athlete at 16? Definitely beats varsity, that's for sure.

    Since then, his stock has been on the rise. He won the Malaysian Open on the European tour and has a couple wins on the Asian Tour as well. Now he's playing in the PGA and amassed top-30 finishes at three majors. 

Ryo Ishikawa

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    Ishikawa's nickname translates to "Bashful Prince," though his performances on the golf course are hardly indicative of that "Bashful" moniker. Not only is he a young gun, he's a true standout, has been since the age of 15. That's when he won his first event on the Japanese tour. 

    Fifteen!

    He was an amateur then, but he's a pro now and was the youngest player ever to crack the world's top 100. His most recent accomplishment of note was finishing 20th at the 2011 Masters.  

Patrick Cantlay

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    He may have finished second in the 2011 US Amateur, but that defeat simply signals that this young gun has nowhere to go but up. Only a sophomore at UCLA, he is currently the top-ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. 

    Add on his lengthy list of college accolades, and the picture becomes clear of just how good he is. 

    Not bad for someone born in 1992. 

Rory Mcilroy

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    No surprise here. The Mcilroy-Tiger questions were ubiquitous after his dominating – and cathartic – victory at the 2011 U.S. Open. The way he owned the course and field from beginning to end, golf media and fans, so desperate for a new superstar, seemed ready to anoint him. 

    At only 22 years old, he truly is the best option available. Style, skill, and a superstar girlfriend. He definitely has the makings. 

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